Becoming the Admin They Can’t Live Without (Part 1 of 3)

Oct 1, 2011 | Leadership

In my last article, I shared multiple things most executives need and expect from their administrative assistants.  I promised to share some specific strategies you can implement to meet those expectations.  I’ve broken my master list into three smaller segments. Here is part 1 of this 3-part series.

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Whether you have an executive who already adores you or you are working hard to prove yourself and develop a positive, productive working relationship with your boss, here are some approaches to implement into your repertoire of value-added administrative support strategies.

SMILE. And do it as much as possible. When I worked in one of the most toxic corporate environments of my career, sometimes the only exchanges my executive and I would make as he passed by my desk was a smile or a cheesy grin.  It was my way of saying, “I’m sorry you’re having a bad day or another difficult meeting. Hang in there.”  It was his way of saying, “Thank you for your support and not asking me how my day is going right now.”  Both of us felt the pressure and the tension, but it wasn’t going to do either of us any good to vent openly in our office setting.  So a smile or cheesy grin now and then did the trick, and it was an effective tension reliever for both of us as well!  For some, smiling isn’t a natural part of their demeanor; if you’re one of those people, then practice smiling.  Put a mirror on your desk and see if you find yourself with a “beware of approaching me” frown or with a welcoming smile.  When you’re on the phone or talking to others, keeping a smile on your face will help you keep a smile in your voice when you are approaching delicate situations as well.  It makes a world of difference. Give it a try!

Be polite and courteous. Always!  Sometimes your executives need reminders.  Sometimes you may feel more like the office parent than the office assistant, but that’s the nature of the beast some days. When there are numerous meetings and hundreds of emails, voice messages, instant messages, and text messages flying at your executive all day long, it’s easy for details to be overlooked or missed altogether…even for some of the most detail oriented among us! But as your executive, I’m not going to appreciate your sarcasm or snippy voice telling me that I need to do something I inadvertently overlooked.  Be polite and kind no matter what – even when you have a boss that is rude, impatient, and self-absorbed.  They probably need your kindness even more.

Establish regular touch points throughout the day and/or week with your executive.  Sometimes you have to ASK for time on their calendar.  This may come in the form of formal one on ones, weekly email status reports of what you accomplished for the week, monthly team meetings or simply sticking your head in their office door for five minutes at the start of the day and for five minutes at the end of the day to touch base on priorities and project status updates.  But you MUST establish regular contact with your executive to effectively support this person.  Don’t wait for them to ask you; you initiate it.  The busier your executive is the more important this is and the harder it sometimes is to get face time with them, but insist on making these regular touch points a priority. And when you finally do get the time, make sure you are PREPARED and o rganized so you make the most of the time you do get. Over time, this quantity time (even in small increments) will produce quality time that will cement your working relationship for years to come.

Know when to push and know when to back off.  Be aware of what’s going on in the office environment around you and with your executive from a timing, mood, and obligations perspective.  There are times to push and there are times to just let it go.  Learning to discern this balance related to those you support is going to be a key success factor in your career.  I had one executive tell me once that the thing he valued the most about me was the fact that I knew when to push and when to back off. I had to do a lot of observing and listening to learn how to do this best. You need to be aware of your executive’s weekly priorities, daily routines, and ongoing schedules. Learn their styles and preferences for quick touch point conversations versus longer, more in depth talks you may need to have with them. Be prepared when you do approach th em so you have the supporting details at your fingertips and you aren’t wasting their time. Learning the delicate balance of when to insert yourself and when to step back will be vital to your success!

You should be reviewing the calendars of each executive you support at the end of each day and at the beginning of the next day so you know exactly what’s going on with them every day. When you hear them discussing projects or meetings, you’ll be more apt to know exactly what they are talking about or referring to when they ask you to help with something. Many executives assume you already know, so make sure you do. On a similar note, pay attention to the regular recurring events that occur within your company such as board meetings. What always occurs before, during and after these events that impacts you and the executives you support? Be aware so you can be proactive in planning for them with your executive.

Get comfortable with digging in and figuring things out on your own.  Be a problem solver. Learn to take the initiative to fix things that you see need fixing and follow up on things that need to be handled. Before you take a problem to your executive, see if you can identify a solution or two to present at the same time. You may need to ask for guidance on your boundaries the first time or so if you aren’t comfortable exploring them on your own. But keep pushing and expanding those boundaries as you gain competence and confidence in your support role. When you do ask questions, take good notes. Write their responses down. Once you have the answers, you don’t have to ask it again.  When you don’t have an established project plan, procedure, or precedent to follow, do some research and create a suggestion for one.  Sometimes yo u figure out better questions to ask when you dig into a little on your own first.  But don’t go running to your boss with every little question (you don’t want to be a nuisance) without having done a little research on your own and potentially having a solution already figured out that you can present at the same time you ask the question.   When you do have to ask questions, try to get as much information the first time as you can so you don’t have to go back a dozen times.

Become your executive’s personal project manager. I love it when my team takes the initiative to follow up on routine calls and emails on the “to dos” we are working on so I don’t have to. It’s even more exciting when they capture the “to do list” items as we talk through things and then track them to make sure we get them done; this frees up my time and energy significantly. When I know they have things under control, I can focus my time and energy on the bigger initiatives that require my attention.

Be your executive’s eyes and ears.  I have yet to see an admin’s desk that hasn’t turned into the “unloading dock” for what ails those in the work place.  When no one else will listen, the admin’s desk is an easy target for stopping to share the small victories or the workplace woes because it’s usually more exposed, in a higher traffic area, and everyone knows the admin. While this doesn’t always put you in the easiest place, your first allegiance is to your executive and keeping him or her connected to the pulse and climate of the team.  This doesn’t mean you run in and tell them every last thing your co-workers share with you. But when you pick up on a trend (positive or negative) or hear things that you know your executive needs to be aware of, it’s your duty to share that information with them to keep them in touch. I used to start the conversations with my executives something like this, “I’m picking up on some hints of frustration related to X project from several team members over the past few days. I just wanted to make you aware of it.”  I typically wouldn’t share specific names unless my executive pressed hard for it and had a good reason for needing to know. But most of my executives respected my position as the admin in the middle and didn’t ask me to violate the trust my co-workers were placing in me.  But I also set the expectation with my co-workers that they could certainly share their concerns with me, but I always maintained the right to take that information to my executive if I determined that was necessary.

This list of strategies is just starting point to becoming the admin your executive can’t imagine his or her corporate life without.  Next week I’ll take you a few levels deeper and explore training your executive to delegate to you more effectively, the importance of paying attention to company initiatives, becoming power users of key software and much more as you become an indispensable part of your executive’s corporate team.

© 2011 Julie Perrine International, LLC

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Julie Perrine, CAP-OM, is the founder and CEO of All Things Admin, providing training, mentoring and resources for administrative professionals worldwide. Julie applies her administrative expertise and passion for lifelong learning to serving as an enthusiastic mentor, speaker and author who educates admins around the world on how to be more effective every day. Learn more about Julie’s books — The Innovative Admin: Unleash the Power of Innovation in Your Administrative Career and The Organized Admin: Leverage Your Unique Organizing Style to Create Systems, Reduce Overwhelm, and Increase Productivity. And request your free copy of our special report “From Reactive to Proactive: Creating Your Strategic Administrative Career Plan” at www.AllThingsAdmin.com.

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